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  • Writer's pictureABQ Green Room


By A. Stone

There are nights when one just needs to get out of town, to breathe a bit easier while seeing city lights dwindle in the rearview, ears popping with the elevation change as the car winds up some craggy mountain pass. Saturday the 28th of January was one of those nights. My friend and I decided to hike up to Taos for the debut album release show of a mysterious yet alluring new band on the scene: Dissolves.

Perhaps it's something to do with the air in Taos or some genuine distortion of reality, but Dissolves has remained an enigma in my mind since the first time I heard their demo a couple of months ago. I had searched high and low for where they were playing next, who they were and what they were about and came up empty handed save an old GoFundMe for their first album, which was to be recorded in the historic El Cortez theater. The page said they intended to bring in a professional engineer and planned to track mid-June.  I was interested to hear what the process had turned out to be.

Reset, the space where this long-awaited show had ended up was a strange mix of nothing special and something weird. A large square box with white beams and recessed lighting made up the majority, with a DJ booth/control room overlooking the dance floor and stage. A ragged disco ball hung from the center of the conceptual dancefloor. To the right, bathrooms stocked with Narcan and a small kitchen churned out what looked to be Philly cheesesteaks. The stage area was littered with mysterious objects belonging to all three bands on the bill, a motley tangle of loopers, keyboards, pedals, drums, guitars and more. And before the flood of bodies that was to fill the space, there was this buzzing liveliness, a definite sense of celebration. In other words, a reflection of Taos's straight forward allure that always may hold a mirage or two at times.

Venus and Tanner, the bassist and guitarist/singer of Dissolves, welcomed me warmly, offering a slice of pizza before leading me “back to the front” of the gallery space, Revolt. It was a small cozy living room area where we discussed their assembly as a band and the album they were releasing physical copies of that night. In the back, Sam Johnson was on a couch, wearing a Sunn O))) and eating a pizza sandwich (two slices, stacked).

The band was celebrating the release of their self-titled first album which, the band agreed, was made possible by their friendship and goofy clowning all three members helped them work well together. Tanner, soft spoken and thoughtful, commented, “I think being friends is the most important thing. Just being able to get along which I guess we do.” Venus adds, “Yeah, we're a buncha clowns. Mostly pizza brings us together [everyone laughs] …Pizza, coffee,and cigarettes…”  To their surprise, Mike Kriebel, the seasoned engineer they had found for their record, shared their clowning ethic.  According to Sam, “We had never met Mike…Mike walks in to the [El Cortez] theater” –in anticipation, Venus chuckles– “…we all hug and Mike just lays down, puts his head on his arm on the floor and goes 'Ok let's make our record' and we were like 'Ok this is going to be perfect.’” 

Sam’s equally heavy hitting and groove focused drum lines, Tanner's airy, acid surf vocals dancing on top of thick guitar lines made even beefier by bassist Venus's buzzsaw sound all fit extremely well within the confines of the old theater. As Tanner put it, “[The El Cortez] was such a good sounding room. We were like 'The drums need to sound really good'...[and] we did it all live so we needed the live drum room and that was the one.”

Photo by Evan Yee.

Tanner: “[The El Cortez is] Dennis Hopper's old haunted theater on the south side of town here. We just went in, built some baffles, and spent a couple days setting things up. Michelle who owns it now is such a sweetheart and just kinda let us do whatever we wanted to in the space.”

The band had started in high New Mexico style at a lowrider show in Arroyo Seco. The members shared a love for the drone metal project Sunn O))) (pronounced Sun), as drummer Sam was wearing a Sunn O))) shirt that day (as well as during our interview). “I beelined it for him, 'tell me what music you like,'” Tanner remembered, grinning. The trio jammed a couple days later, quickly writing three songs on the spot. As Venus put it, “...the stars aligned and [we said] 'alright, we're a fucking band now, whether we like it or not.'” With that certainty, the band began playing in Taos that summer, building a supportive base of local fans even while remaining relative unknowns outside the local scene.

The stage stirred and girlwizard kicked off the night, with a mixture of everything the stage had to offer: verbose and staccato raps over circus-style instrumentals, live looping guitar and keyboards and singing in a variety of styles. The shifts between songs, if not seamless, were exciting and kept the crowd’s attention even when there was a technical glitch here or there.  It helped that these glitches were handled by the solo performer with honesty, humor and grace, at one point reminding the audience to “practice more” after they had faltered. girlwizard’s authentic and adventuresome spirit was encapsulated in the thick ski jacket they kept on thru their set, creating a sense that we were all in the living room together after a long winter’s day, watching a one-person variety show.

Diatom Deli carried on looping, presenting a serpentine mixture of classical guitar and icy synth loops with a very specific type of high pitched autotune, winding in and out of harmonies. At times, the aural space felt like chaos, riding a line between a natural sense of melodic beauty and an almost horror tinged atmosphere. Birdsong mixed with pondering bass synths, and Deli moved fluidly between guitar, loopers, and synths in an intent yet adventurous way, seeming to emphasize the ”play” in playing. The set ended in yet another strange, altogether unique ambient space: close breathing mixed with church bells and the sound of wind and a heartbeat that carried the crowd to the end of the opening set.

As Dissolves took the stage, the already packed room seemed to contract towards them. The crowd was a truly diverse mix, but a younger, heretofore unseen crowd seemed to coagulate at the very front. Tanner’s words rang in my ears: “There's a lot of younger kids who have been pretty inspired by our music and that's worth it right there.” And right then, at the first note of the opening jam, it seemed like an accurate statement. The floor shook, lifted, and fell in seismic rhythm along to the tidal movement of sound and crowd.  Looking out on the crowd, it felt like the night was truly “a celebration,” as Sam put it: “a year ago today we were in this same room, raising funds to make the record.”  You could see the community that had rallied around them over their nascent existence in the room, a clear feeling that everyone was celebrating the album release as almost a collective birthing: crowdfunded, anticipated and celebrated.

The band played a cover of “Wolf Like Me,” shaking the little room, bombarding the crowd with a fast moving rendition that brought the energy to a fever pitch. Following this, the tempo slowed  to a molasses crawl, Sam resolute at the drums, face contorting involuntarily as the rhythm ebbed and flowed to height, his arms raised between crashing thick swaths of Tanner guitar and Venus’s bass melding into a wall of sonic glory. Tanner pulled out grunge inflected dinosaur groans from their guitar while Venus sat diligently and played precise incisions of buzzsaw bass into Tanner’s drones. 

It was no surprise to hear that the duo have been intertwined for quite some time. Venus explained, “Tanner and I have played in bands for the last decade together. We lived together in Michigan and we're partners so we've just kinda been riding the musical wave for a decade or around there.” Their tight performance was no fluke of musical or personal connection however. As Sam emphasized in their approach to the record: “We committed to being like ‘we're going to track this live. We're gonna live with these performances and so we spent a lot of time, probably 4 months, practicing just to get ready for that.’” 

The album was recorded in the El Cortez in a shocking 5 days, including building sound treatment baffles. This limited time helped them focus in on what was truly important for the recording process and weed everything else out. As Tanner expressed, “It also means you aren't going back on things because you have an unlimited amount of time like 'oh I can play this better now, let's rerecord it.'” This abbreviated time, a natural limitation, was made into a clear strength of the album. “This is the moment in time that we did it.” 

T: “A lot of the stuff on the record was me bringing bones and then Sam and Venus putting the flesh and meat on the song, so to speak. Just adding to it, shaping it..In the past, if I don't shape everything, it doesn't turn into a song. And it's cool to have these two be really committed to make a good song and therefore a good record.”

 V: We really feel like a equilateral triangle. Nobody's really the leader, we're all parts of a whole that support one another.

S: On this record, it led to so many different types of songs. There's songs that are straight up pop songs: verse chorus verse chorus breakdown chorus. And then there's like an 11-minute medley to finish the record, that has however many different parts. All these emerging qualities of this writing process have led to different places.

Photo by Evan Yee.

On the subject of Dissolves place in the scene here, Venus commented, “I think we kind of fill a void in Taos because there's a lot of Folk and Americana and then there's like straight up Metal and we're not really any of those things. I think creating this sound that's unique to our weird thing we want to do and bringing people in to heavier music who maybe wouldn't listen to that.” 

That night, the pit was all smiles and laughs and friendly pushing and you could feel the energy of many people trying out a new way of being together. At several points, a troupe of friends cleared the pit and performed interpretive dance along to the slower portions of a few songs. It was encouraging to see smaller statured, queer and/or femme-presenting people up front, moshing and unafraid. Venus commented on the importance of adding the band’s own sense of identity within the public eye: “I think bringing queerness to that as well is really important in these times.”  

During the big beat portions, the crowd swayed across the room, back and forth. Tanner glided surfing on their back on a sea of outstretched hands for a solo as the pit turned syrupy in the fog choked room, sauna’d by approximately 150 souls. The most delightful thing about a tight pit is the kinetic enjoyment of movement when it opens during some breath and the movement at Revolt allowed for this ebb and flow. 

There was satisfaction both in the soothing heaviness of the music and the obviously diverse and queer nature of the audience and it was exciting seeing that room for expression in a subgenre of music that can often be connotated with somewhat constipated self-expression of their listening base. And this is exactly what made the night so enjoyable, the celebration Dissolves, one year later playing for the community that had helped support the creating an article of work, in a celebration deserved by all, band and audience alike.  Eventually one bounced with the floor as it moved and reality was reformed, reshaped, rekindled in this sweaty soup of bodies. Venus summed the feeling of the night up perfectly in saying, “Rock n roll gives me life. It might not pay the bills, but I certainly feel like I'm living when I'm doing it.” 

In a state that is literally oozing with some incredibly talented heavy bands, Dissolves has clearly begun to carve out a niche for themselves. Their commitment to their work is apparent in working their album out “the old way” with month’s long practice followed by efficient recordings. The album release show had revealed that heavy music could feel oh-so-lighthearted when everyone involved is in a state of ecstatic celebration. It is clear that the band has much more to offer to an eager listening base, locally and beyond.

Self-titled album out now on streaming and Bandcamp.

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